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God's Beautiful, Imperfect Church

  • November 2020 Issue
Practical Theology

The book of Acts provides a snapshot of what life was really like in the early church. According to Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Luke describes what might sound like a utopian community. They shared their possessions. Their meetings were characterized by gladness and sincerity. No wonder many people think the church today should go back to its New Testament roots!

Yet we should not ignore the imperfections. In the book of Acts, we see the real-world flaws of this remarkable community. We discover that some of its members were hypocrites (5:1–2). We witness the church’s first significant organizational change when some of its older members were being neglected, possibly due to cultural prejudice (6:1). And we see the church’s reluctance to accept the newly converted Paul because of his former life (9:26). Its members displayed human weakness and a full range of emotions. Some were upset after they heard Peter had met and dined with Gentiles (11:2–3). Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement so sharp that they went their separate ways (15:39). Some needed further doctrinal instruction (18:25–26). And Paul warned that some of them would become false teachers (20:30).

If you need more evidence of the early church’s imperfections, all you have to do is read the New Testament. But a day is coming when the church will be presented to Christ “without stain or wrinkle” (Eph. 5:27). Until that day, God calls us to worship and serve together with His beautiful, imperfect church. Paul advises, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

Instead of searching for the perfect church, we should find one that values God’s Word and proclaims the gospel. If the church practices “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Such a church is built upon the truth.

For Further Study

To learn more, read Church by A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers).

BY Dr. John Koessler

John Koessler is Professor Emeritus of Applied Theology and Church Ministries at Moody Bible Institute. John authors the “Practical Theology” column for Today in the Word of which he is also a contributing writer and theological editor. An award-winning author, John’s newest title is When God is Silent: Let the Bible Teach You to Pray (Kirkdale). Prior to joining the Moody faculty, he served as a pastor of Valley Chapel in Green Valley, Illinois, for nine years. He and his wife, Jane, now enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan.

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